The Railway Family

In the book, by E. Nesbit, the children's surname is not mentioned; but the name Waterbury does appear. At the beginning of Chapter III, in which we meet "the old gentleman" who travels on the train that the children call the Green Dragon, we are told that this train "was three and a quarter minutes late by Peter's Waterbury watch that he had had given him on his last birthday."

The watch is mentioned once more by name: in Chapter VI, the children have to borrow their mother's watch because "Peter's Waterbury had taken it into its head not to go since the day when Peter dropped it into the water–butt."

The Waterbury watch is (or was) a real brand, named after the fifth largest city in Connecticut and the ninth largest in New England. The Waterbury Clock Company was founded in 1854 by Benedict & Burnham, a manufacturer of brass instruments. It began manufacturing watches in 1887, and one of its early successes was the Jumbo pocket watch – named after P. T. Barnum's elephant. This caught the attention of Robert H. Ingersoll, a salesman and eventual marketing pioneer. The Waterbury Clock Company went on to produce millions of pocket watches, under the Ingersoll brand name, for the newly created partnership of Robert H. Ingersoll & Bro. In 1896, Ingersoll introduced the Ingersoll Yankee – a one–dollar pocket watch supplied by Waterbury Clock Company. This proved so popular that it became known as "the watch that made the dollar famous."

Meanwhile, in 1877, Benedict & Burnham had introduced their own inexpensive watch, which was so successful that a separate company was set up to manufacture it: Waterbury Watch Company. By 1888, this was the world's largest volume producer of watches. But it fell a victim to poor sales techniques (watches being given away as loss–leaders) and was declared bankrupt by 1896. It tried to recover by concentrating on high–end models, but without success. Its plant was bought by Ingersoll, who began manufacturing watches there in 1914.

Up to now, all watches had been pocket watches. The wristwatch was born during the First World War, when artillery gunners needed to be able to tell the time while operating their guns.

In 1921, the Ingersoll company went bankrupt; it was bought by Waterbury Clock the following year. Ingersoll's London–based European arm was sold off to its directors. Waterbury Clock survived the Great Depression, and in 1930 it reached an agreement to manufacture the famous Mickey Mouse watch under the Ingersoll brand name.

In 1941 the company was bought by two refugees from the Nazi invasion of Norway, one of whom was Thomas Olsen – owner and operator of the Fred. Olsen Shipping Company. The other was Joakim Lehmkuhl – the son of Norway's former Minister of Labour, and the nephew of a former Prime Minister. Olsen and Lehmkuhl moved the company into the high–volume production of precision timers for military hardware, which proved a great success.

In 1943 the company was renamed United States Time Corporation, and in 1950 Lehmkuhl introduced the Timex brand, which employed the techniques and materials that had been developed in the manufacture of fuse timers. This included the replacement of the jewels that had traditionally been used in watch movements with a new hard alloy called Armalloy.

Jewellers – the traditional retailers of timepieces – were not impressed by this new–fangled technology, or by the miserly 50% markup, so Timex watches were sold in department stores, drug stores and other mass market outlets. The marketing executive Russ Alben came up with the slogan "Timex: takes a licking and keeps on ticking", which was featured in an advertising campaign where watches were put through extreme conditions by high–divers and water skiers, as well as being tested by dishwashers, jackhammers and paint mixers, and on the propellor of an outboard motor. By 1962, one in every three watches sold in the USA was a Timex; sales offices had been set up throughout Europe, and distributors around the world. In 1969, the United States Time Corporation was renamed Timex Corporation.

In the 1970s and early 80s, the watch market was revolutionised by the import of cheap goods from the Far East and digital technology from Japan. Timex responded by concentrating on product quality, using the experience of its many years, and fashionable design.

The story since the mid–1980s has been one of licensing agreements, acquisitions, sports sponsorships and specialist products such as the Ironman Triathlon. Timex today is owned by a Dutch holding company, and its products are manufactured in the Far East.

© Haydn Thompson 2019